Lone Wolf and Cub: The Bell Warden by Kazuo Koike

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsLone Wolf and Cub (Vol. 4): The Bell Warden by Kazuo Koike

LONE WOLF AND CUB VOL 4The Bell Warden, Volume 4 of Lone Wolf and Cub, is still obviously chock full of action and bloodshed as Ogami continues cutting a swath through Tokugawa-era Japan on his path of vengeance. The main story arc doesn’t get a significant push forward here, hence the slightly lower rating from previous volumes, though we do get a lot of details on Tokugawa-era Japan and more than a few interesting things in the stories Koike & Kajima choose to tell. To wit:

“The Bell Warden”: Apparently the position of Bell Warden of the watchtowers of Edo was incredibly important and prestigious. The holder of the title was effectively above the law (something that seems to have been common for many positions of authority in the era) and pretty much had a license to print money given their sole ownership of the bell tax levied against the citizens. The current Bell Warden is getting on in years and what better way to guarantee the strength and honour of his true heir than to send each of his sons against the greatest assassin in the land and see which one survives? I know, not the obvious course of action, but hey it makes for an interesting story especially given that each of the sons have a unique weapon and fighting style which might actually give Lone Wolf a run for his money.

“Unfaithful Retainers”: Rising household costs and the need to maintain lavish lifestyles (not to mention to maintain residences in both their own Han and Edo) have caused many Daimyo to choose to hire temporary servants in place of the customary clan-servants whose tenure is for life. This may have cut back on expenses, but it also meant that those servants no longer had the strong ties of family and honour to their lords and the bosses in control of the worker pool had cornered a new and necessary market, essentially creating a ready pool of thugs and henchmen from which to draw. One such leader Bell wardenkilled a lone samurai noble simply because he was in his way and he knew he was beyond the reach of the law. The samurai’s remaining children are unable to exact vengeance to regain the honour of their house, but Ogami has a cunning plan to draw out the culprit in the hopes of helping them take their own vengeance and restore the balance of honour.

“Parting Frost”: An intriguing story in that it’s told completely from the point of view of young Daigoro as he goes in search of his missing father. Along the way he comes across a lone samurai who is amazed at the composure and ‘readiness for death’ he sees in the boy’s eyes — something even most hardened warriors do not possess. He decides to test the boy’s mettle and ends up facing off against the even deadlier father of the young cub.

“Performer”: Perhaps the best tale of the bunch. A female street performer adept with the short sword is on a path of vengeance after she is dishonoured and abused merely for not being a member of the noble class. In addition to her deadly touch with the blade she has a unique and effective means of putting her foes off-balance. As Ogami knows only too well the path of vengeance is one whose ripple effect is felt far beyond the aims of the one pursuing it. Indeed, Ogami is counting on this in his own quest, but the young woman becomes caught between her ultimate goal and the deadly sword of Lone Wolf as a result of hers. Nice tale that looks at some of the complexities inherent in a society based on honour where blood-feud is a valid course of action.

All in all a good volume, though not the best of the bunch.


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TERRY LAGO, one of our regular guest reviewers, is a Torontonian who, like all arts students, now works in the IT field. He has been a fan of fantasy ever since being introduced to Tolkien by his older brother when he was only a wee lad, though he has since branched out to enjoy all spectrums of the Fantasy genre and quite a few of the science fiction one as well. Literary prose linked with well-drawn characters are the things he most looks for in a book. You can see what he's currently reading at his Goodreads page.

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